In one of the comments threads below, I discovered I have something in common with one of our regular commenters: I have a particular interest in the Korean War.
I won’t speculate on the interest of others, but my particular interest was likely sparked by my grandfather, a Merchant Marine veteran, who sent his two sons off to war. My uncle, the older, was born in 1924, and served as an Army T/5 in the Battle of the Bulge. His younger brother barely saw WWII service. He was a Lt(j.g.) on the USS Tripoli (CVE-64), which was sailing through the Panama Canal on the way to the Pacific Theater when V-J Day was declared. Indirectly, that was a lucky break for me, because he survived to become my father.
After the war, both brothers attended college on the GI Bill. My father was apparently the better student. He stayed in school. My uncle Jimmy flunked out and was caught up in the Korean War draft. He re-entered the Army Infantry as a Lieutenant.
My grandfather had made a note in the family genealogy in his characteristic neat hand:
1st Lt. W. War III
Last heard of Korea 12/21/51
My grandfather was not given to open displays of emotion, but I often wondered what it was like receiving a Christmas telegram telling you your son was missing in action.
According to family legend, the men in his unit (2nd Div, 9th Reg, Co F) became involved in a fierce firefight in the vicinity of Kumhwa, very close to the 38th parallel and the front line/armistice line. The Division was at that time harrassing the Chinese forces massed along the still-shaky armistice line. One man said he saw my uncle shot; another said he saw him taken prisoner. Because of this uncertainty, he was not declared dead until he failed to return after the end of hostilities in 1953.
He is still officially MIA. I have been in contact with the Army, who have been quite open and professional the whole way. I am promised that they will contact me if his remains are ever repatriated.
Because my family’s blood is spilled in Korea, I have a personal interest in the outcome of hostilities there. Korea has been an insoluble problem for American Presidents and diplomats for 60 years.
Why the current provocation? Both Former Ambassador Donald Gregg and former President Jimmy Carter have speculated that North Korea is bargaining for bilateral US-North Korea talks. In this construction, Kim Jong-Il (and his son, Real Lee-Il, tip o’ the hat to David Letterman for that one) figure the South are our puppets, so they would rather eliminate all middlemen and dicker with us directly.
I’m no expert, but my read of this is that the Chinese would never stand for it. Ever since MacArthur accidentally dropped bombs on the wrong side of the Yalu, the Chinese have propped up the North, first with military force and then with vigorous diplomacy.
As I see it, the next move belongs to the Chinese. They, of course, share a border with North Korea. If someone pulls the trigger — the US, the Japanese, the South — the chances are good that the Chinese will be dealing with a refugee crisis of massive proportions. Most of the world is waiting for the Chinese to make a move.
What can the US do? What should the US do? Are we militarily strong enough to open a third front? Another complication, as I see it, is that a US withdrawal from Central Asia combined with North Korean “success” at upsetting the status quo would embolden the Iranians to ramp up their own nuclear ambitions.